Every now and then my sales team will come to me to ask if I think a web site will make a good SEO project for us. To have a successful SEO project with a client’s web site, I found that it is necessary to be able to not only assess the web site but your client as well. What I have found are 5 steps, which take about 5 minutes, which will allow a quick glance at assessing a web site, but also, from these same steps, be able to see what it will take to deal with the client of this web site. Will it be “easy” to optimize the web site and will it be “easy” to deal with the client during an SEO project or not?
To clarify a bit more about this “easy” situation, let me suggest items that might make a client or their web site a little less “easy” to deal with and optimize!
- A web site that has absolutely no inbound (backward) links to any of their pages.
This may make it more difficult to deal with the client because there will be a lot of work to build the inbound link authority. And, to intelligently do this will require some additional time from your client along with their patience.
- A web site that has been around for a bit but doesn’t rank anywhere for their company name nor any valuable (searchable) keywords.
This one depends more on the reasons why the web site pages don’t rank. It may simply be because the client neglected to actually talk about themselves somewhere on the site and/or is so into his product or service that he forgot to describe what it was. If this client doesn’t understand that or suggests that the industry doesn’t need explaining then it may be difficult to help get these needed optimization elements into his web site.
- A site that is completely designed in Flash.
This one says re-design. Is the client willing to incur possible additional expense and time for a redesign? And will he understand that if he allows SEO to work in tandem with the redesign, he’ll be better off too.
If this project is all about the expense for this client, then he may cut corners on SEO.
- Signs that black-hat efforts have taken place on a site.
If the client doesn’t know or won’t admit to black-hat practices then he may not understand that white-hat practices may take time and are for the long haul. He may be used to the quick wins if he wasn’t caught in time!
Are you getting the picture? Need I go further? It’s not that it isn’t easily figured out what some of a web site’s problems might be from an SEO perspective, but the above situations may make it more difficult when dealing with the client and the client’s expectations. You know your client really wants you to simply wave your magic wand over their site and miraculously, and especially without any changes to their site, increase their rankings and conversions all over night! We can even predict exactly the volume of sales increases and when to expect them too. We, SEOs, are an amazing bunch, aren’t we!!!
Ok, the 5 steps to assessing your client through their web site should take about 5 minutes. They are:
Don’t yell at me!! The only reason I suggest a quick glance at this is because it can be a quick and easy view for determining if a site may have any inbound link credit. You will want to check some additional things if the PageRank bar for pages is empty or grey. There will be a lot more to discuss with this client as far as possible work to be done and their more specific involvement.
If the PageRank bar has some green, then you can determine some of its external authority and know that you can probably help with pushing that along. The client may be more understanding at the work to develop links when he already has a little bit of a start.
Ok, see, you can stop yelling at me now. I know who Larry Page is, ok?!
2) site: command
Use this command in the Google, Yahoo, Live Search (formerly known as MSN) search box to see a lot of different things, such as the following:
- You can determine how extensive the site is, page numbers in the indexes.
- You can see the general use of the Title and Meta Description tags.
- You can spot the more important pages – at least from a search engine perspective.
- And you can spot possible duplication issues and some “supplemental” page issues.
Just in case, a sample format of this command is: site:clientwebsitename.com
There are additional qualifiers that you can use with this command – but that’s another entry (and I am only allowed one)!
Notice that I don’t include the “www” in the site: command for www.clientwebsitename.com because that can help me see sub-domains or duplicate issues related to canonical problems.
Right here you can start to see good and bad SEO elements in a site and get to know how easily you’ll be able to communicate certain issues with your client.
I love this site for a first glance at what words (note the use of the term “words” and not “keywords”) for which a web site has rankings. You can use this information to see if there has been any value to their word use as far as keywords and rankings. It also shows what type of words they use, or don’t, in determining possible better or more useful keywords for an SEO project.
This website shows that it holds position 6 in the Google rankings for the search term “search visibility”. SEODigger.com will show rankings for a variety of words but sometimes the words that are ranking have no search value at all and should not be considered keywords in any discussion. So, do note the WordTracker and Overture counts (seen under WT and OT above) and/or verify the word values.
This will give you a start at discussing rankings to your client especially because you’ll have examples of words, and hopefully keywords, that pertain specifically to their site.
This site will show you the age of a domain. You can also see when the site made changes, notice the * by an archive date. Click on a date that has an asterisk (*) and you may be able to see the type of changes made and/or things like previous owners of a domain too. Look for jumps in archived time frames.
The above screen view shows an example of a web site that had ownership starting in 2001, stopped operations and then the domain was re-purchased in 2004 with a new design and new information.
You can use this information to explain why a domain might be aged, but has no PR (as mentioned in step 1). It could be because they just purchased the domain name from someone else. It could also be a sign of search engine banning issues. Go back to the site: command (step 2) to see if there appears to be a proper number of pages in the search engine indexes based on what you see when you look at the web site itself. If there are not, then there might have been some black-hat issues that have been caught.
Then, if there is no aging, you can assume that it’s probably a new web site.
Needless to say, Archive.org can give you insight to some good questions to ask your client.
5) View page source – meta tags, H1, quick coding check
There are a few different ways to bring up and view the source code of any given page in any given browser. However you do it, I recommend a quick view of the source code for the home page of a site and a sub-page for this check. The source code will help solidify your thoughts on what you saw on Title and Meta Description tags from the site: command (step 2). It will also help you see if that client has ever had any proper white-hat knowledge of SEO maybe, black-hat knowledge, or, simply, old-school knowledge.
Again, don’t yell at me when I suggest you look at the use, or lack of, the Meta Keywords tag. I know what it is there for! And, if you don’t, then that’s your problem for today’s lesson!!!
If the Meta Keywords tag (or any other tag) is spammed out, you can gather possible old-school or black-hat issues. If it is not used at all, then you can gather that they really are new to SEO. If it is used, but possibly not the best use of keywords, maybe someone suggested something about SEO to the client, but they just don’t really understand it yet. Look at the Meta Description tag and the H1 (if there is one) while you are at it. Maybe the H1 tag is there purely for formatting words on the page – another indicator on the potential clients’ understanding of SEO. Dig deeper into the page, if you have time, you’ll see a lot of other potential design issues that may need to be addressed in an SEO project. The use of the Meta Tags can be a good guideline for how you will need to adjust the way you communicate with your client to be more effective in continued SEO endeavors with them.
Ok, so this did take me more than 5 minutes to write! But, if you take these 5 steps and get used to reviewing a site this way, then it really should take you no more than 5 minutes to get a good idea of what it might take to deal with a web site and its client owner as far as SEO services you provide.
None of this is an end-all or be-all for determining whether you want to take on a client’s web site for optimization. It really is just a useful quick glance that can give you loads of information that will help in communicating with your client. It can also help tell you if you might need to dig further into a web site’s situation before deciding or not to offer your SEO services with this client.
Have fun and happy SEO projects and clients to you all!
- Notice the use of words in this entry such as “assume” and “might be”. I will never suggest “definite” or “always” because, in the world of SEO, we should all know that there are many factors that need to come together before you even try to suggest something might be “always”, or “definitely”, one way or another!
- Although I reference Yahoo! and LiveSearch, I do generally stick to Google as a quicker approach to finding the above information. Most all of my clients continue to have more search volume directed from Google anyway.
This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.